The Why, When & What of Starting Solids
When babies are born they rely on breastmilk or formula to provide 100% of their nutritional needs. However, as they grow and develop, their nutritional needs change and they are no longer able to obtain adequate amounts of certain nutrients from breastmilk or formula alone. In particular, their iron and zinc requirements are no longer able to met. Babies are in fact born with somewhat adequate iron stores from their time in mummy’s tummy which are simply topped up through their breastmilk or formula feeds but as they approach the six -month mark, the stores start to diminish and their needs increase so they require the addition of complimentary or solid foods to help meet their requirements. Aside from meeting nutritional requirements, starting solids exposes baby to a whole new range of tastes, textures, colours and experiences which will help shape their eating habits and build new skills. Just as they are learning to move around and experience the world in different ways, they must also learn to experience different types of foods. For example as baby learns to bite and chew food, this helps develop and strengthen their teeth and jaw
and gives them skills which will later be used in their speech development.
Similarly, development of their pincer grip which assists them in picking up food by themselves is all about their motor development and represent another developmental milestones in baby’s growth.
The most up to date Australian Guidelines and World Health Organisation (WHO) Guidelines recommend the introduction of solids ‘around six months, but not before four months’. In short, this provides the optimum window of introduction is between 4 and 6 months of age when baby is showing signs of readiness.
Signs of Readiness are:
• Able to hold head and neck upright when seated in highchair or Bumbo
• Showing interest in food, reaching for your food,
• Opens mouth when you offer him/her food on a spoon
• Tongue-thrust reflex starting to disappear (where baby just pushes their tongue out of their mouth ultimately pushing solids out also)
When it comes to what you should be giving in terms of first foods for baby, there really is no hard and fast rules. The most important things to think about are ensuring that the food is the correct texture for bub and making sure that from six months, they are getting iron-rich foods.
In terms of appropriate texture, initially this will mean offering very smooth purees (you may need to thin some purees with breastmilk or formula) and then gradually increasing the texture to a lumpier puree then more of a mash and ultimately to finger food. The time in which it will take to graduate from each texture will depend entirely on your baby but it is
generally expected that by nine months baby will be able to handle finger foods. Development of this texture is particularly important for ensuring baby starts using those teeth and strengthening their jaw to assist with speech development.
In terms of iron – rich food, this is a priority from six months. If your bub starts solids before the six-month mark, you do not need to start worrying about iron yet and so the focus should be on exposing bub to as many vegetables and then fruit options as possible to hopefully set them up for lifelong healthy habits. While the evidence on vegetables before fruit is limited, there is a growing school of thought that introducing vegetables before fruit can encourage and foster greater enjoyment and acceptance of vegetables by helping to override baby’s innate preference for sweet foods. Once baby is six months, it will be important to include sources of iron on a daily basis. The best sources of iron are minced lean red meat, liver, pork, chicken and fish. Other good sources included egg, baked beans, iron fortified cereal, green leafy veg, beans and legumes and tofu. Where possible it is best to combine a source of vitamin C with your iron-rich foods, to increase the absorbance of iron. When it comes to vegetables rich in vitamin C, capsicum of all colours and varieties are a standout. Broccoli, snow peas, brussel sprouts and cauliflower are all also great options. Remember initially baby will only be consuming very small amounts, starting with a solid meal on one occasion per day so make sure you are getting some iron to that meal (if bub is over 6 months). Once they start to increase to three meals per day, which is usually around the 7 – 8 month mark, try offer iron – rich foods at two of the three meals to help meet their increased needs.
Sources of iron:
– Lean red meat such as Beef and lamb
– Iron fortified infant cereal
– Chicken and poultry
– Boneless fish
– Beans and legumes eg. Chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans
Vegetable Sources of Vitamin C:
– Snow peas
– Brussel sprouts
Words by Olivia Bates, Founder & Paediatric Dietitian
Want more advice on Starting Solids? Read our Top Ten Tips